While the Soviet Union would never send a crew to the Moon, they did make one other important contribution to space exploration: developing the first ever mobile robotic explorers, the Lunokhod rovers. According to NASA, Lunokhod 1 was under (almost) real-time control by operators back on Earth, traveling to various locations on the lunar surface and running tests on the soil. It also sent back a host of TV images of the grey and dusty vistas all around. In 1970, Lunokhod 1 became the first rover to successfully land on the Moon, working tirelessly for 11 lunar days (which translates to about 11 months on Earth). In collaboration with French scientists, the robot explorers also refined the measurement of the distance from Earth to the Moon.
Its successor, Lunokhod 2, was even higher profile. Smithsonian Magazine explains how, in 1973, the robotic explorer transmitted 69,000 TV images back to Earth and produced 86 panoramas of the lunar surface to showcase the dramatic landscapes of the Moon. Unfortunately, a short circuit dramatically shortened Lunokhod 2’s lifespan, giving it just four months of operating time on the Moon’s surface. In the end, the USSR would only send these two Lunokhod rovers to the Moon’s surface. However, as E&T Magazine notes, they have had a proud legacy in space travel as they were effectively the ancestors of all other space rovers, including the ones that NASA is working to send to Mars.